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'Under God' wasn't in the original pledge of allegiance

In the seemingly continuous and contentious kerfuffle between the secular and religious segments of society, the "under God" phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance is repeatedly raised. Today there are bumper stickers that state emphatically "One nation under God," and the point is frequently made that the phrase is from the founding fathers and has always been part of the pledge. Wrong and wrong.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892, well after the country's founding, as a part of a promotion of The Youth's Companion magazine to sell flags to schools for the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing in the new world. The magazine owner, Daniel Ford Sharp, thought that the country needed a statement that would bring about a sense of unity and loyalty to the country; after all, less than three decades had passed since the Civil War ended.

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The task of writing this statement that could be said in less than 15 seconds was given to editorial staff member Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, author and Christian socialist. He wanted to include the words "equality" and "fraternity" but demurred, knowing that the nation was not ready for either of these with women (the right to vote came in 1920) or blacks.

The original pledge was "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." This appeared in the Sept. 8, 1892 edition of the magazine, which had the widest circulation of any magazine in the country. Different iterations came almost immediately with "to" added in front of the "the republic" and other changes added up through 1924. The pledge then read: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

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It remained that way becoming the national pledge and called "The Pledge of Allegiance" by an amendment to the Flag Code by Congress during World War II; the amendment also declared that the proper way to recite the pledge was while facing the flag with your right hand over your heart. Prior to then, the pledge was recited with the right arm and fingers extended, a salute that had unfortunately come to be associated with Hitler.

The "under God" part — which many secularists, humanists, agnostics and atheists (myself included) want removed — was not added until the mid-1950s. This was a time of the Cold War and irrational fears of the "godless Commies." In 1951, the New York branch of the Catholic Knights of Columbus decided to use the "under God" part of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in the pledge, ultimately encouraging this for all 800 branches throughout the country. In 1952, they urged making this "under God" part universal for all of the country and sent resolutions to this effect to the president, vice president and speaker of the House of Representatives.

A Rev. George Docherty pressed this point in a sermon at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., attended by President Eisenhower. This impressed Eisenhower, and the inclusion of "under God" was passed in a Congressional Bill and signed by Eisenhower on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

The problem with all of this is that it places a religious tone into a secular patriotic pledge, something not agreed upon by all in this country. This U.S. government is (or is supposed to be) secular to allow everyone privately to practice their own religious preferences. Most importantly, "under God" in Lincoln's day meant "God willing" — far different from "under God" of today. "God willing" means if God approves, with God's permission, with God's blessing. "Under God" today means that we are under the control of God, obedient to God, that God is our protector and God is watching over us.

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For those who have different beliefs and yet are patriotic citizens of the country, that is offensive. The Pledge of Allegiance without "under God" served us well for 62 years, and could again. It is time for the "under God" part, fearfully cobbled into an otherwise perfectly good patriotic pledge, to go.

C. Boyd Pfeiffer (cbpfeiffer@msn.com) is a writer and photographer living in Phoenix, Md. His latest book, "No Proof At All: A Cure For Christianity" was published this month by Algora Publishing.

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